JP Observer: In traffic, a little kindness makes a big change

Anyone who has lived here a while has got to have noticed that traffic has increased immensely in JP. Cars and trucks and buses line up for blocks on our main boulevards, leaving vehicles on side streets just yearning to get into the flow.

In mid-December, in line at Stop & Shop in Jackson Square, a pair of nuns gave me an epiphany. They were behind me with fewer items than I, and they were clearly elderly and in a hurry. I let them go in front of me. They expressed their gratitude profusely, offering to mention me in their prayers. I felt terrific.

A few minutes later, pulling out of the parking lot onto Centre Street, it came to me. I had been searching for an everyday way to give gifts to strangers for the holidays, and this was it. Whenever possible, I was going to let cars into traffic in front of me.

The next day I found myself in the long afternoon line on Centre Street from the north past the Curley School and down to the main shopping area. I let the people from Lakeville and Pond Street in front of me. Same for Burroughs and Eliot at the Monument.

As drivers waved thanks, it occurred to me that something had changed. Before, I thought of the cars, buses, etc. as vehicles. Suddenly, I thought of traffic as people. “It” became “he” or “she.”

By January, I had a new habit. I forgot the holidays were over as I continued the campaign I had started to call: “Let people in.”

It felt so good, I started practicing “Let people turn” for those folks coming toward me trying to turn left. Washington Street and other roads can reach a standstill with just a couple of left-leaning drivers. Whenever possible, for their sakes and everyone behind them, I blink to indicate that they can turn ahead of me.

I have also added, “Let people change.” If I get the sense someone wants to change lanes to get in front of me, I slow down so they can.

Not everything has gone beautifully. In the fourth month of “Let people in,” I saw a man trying to turn through in a space in the median strip in front of me. I looked in my rear-view mirror before slowing down, but must have misjudged the distance. Just as I stopped, bang! A guy in a pickup clipped my rear bumper, right where the JP sticker is—my first car accident ever.

I considered giving up my new driving style that day. (I would have zoomed right by a year ago.) Instead, I decided to just be sure in the future to “Let people see in time that I’m stopping.”

Part of the fun of my new enterprise is noticing all the people I never noticed before who seem to be practicing driving kindness, too. Probably they don’t need catchphrases to remind themselves. Whatever it takes to remember, being neighborly on the roads is a good idea.

Sandra Storey was the founding editor and publisher of the Gazette and lives in Jamaica Plain.

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